The news cycle has been exhausting for survivors who see ourselves in the women who have risked their lives, careers and identities to allege that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted them. The nastiness these women have shouldered — death threats, being forced from their homes for their own safety and receiving attacks by the most powerful man in the country — has offered a master class on why up to 90 percent of sexual assaults go unreported.
It’s tempting to dedicate this column to a point-by-point examination of the facts that indicate the credibility of Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez. It’s tempting to dive head-first into a rant about the cruelty survivors are subjected to and the gendered nature of credibility that places women in situations that include not being believed about our experiences with sexual abuse. But at this point, both routes feel pointless, unproductive and needlessly exhausting. I’m exhausted.
You don’t have to testify before a predominantly old, white male Senate committee on national television to know how draining it is to try to prove basic realities to people who are never going to understand. People who don’t want to understand. People who have never shared your experience, and have no capacity for empathy. What I’ve come to discover and want to remind the decent people who believe Ford and survivors, is that it’s not the survivor’s job to prove their humanity to people who are unwilling to see, accept and respect it. It’s not their job to change the minds and hearts of — simply put — bad people.
I’ve drawn on my own experiences with sexual harassment and abuse through the years, and I see my younger self so starkly in the high school girl Ford described herself as at the time of her assault. Taking care of myself and supporting the other survivors in my life has worn me to my core. On top of this, I don’t owe anyone my time and energy to offer explanations, or attempt to humanize survivors, whom decent people should already see as human beings. For all those who try to rationalize sexual assault and start debates out of malice and a twisted, child-like yearning to win an argument, I have no words. I owe you nothing. As survivors, we owe you nothing.
It’s an oft-repeated line among well-meaning, progressive politicians that it’s our civic duty to have conversations with people we disagree with, to use polite, open-minded debate to advance what we believe in. Of course, there are always going to be polite, decent people you can disagree with and have productive debates with. There are plenty of neutral issues that can always be debated. But speaking for myself, there are issues that I am not going to degrade with debate.
I am not going to debate veracity of survivors, who have nothing to gain and everything to lose in coming forward. And I’m certainly not going to waste my time debating people who are already determined to not believe survivors.
I’m an adult woman who has shouldered slurs and attacks that I’m certain would send half the men who call me a “social justice warrior” or a “snowflake” into retirement. I’ve lived enough life to know that debating the realities of rape and misogyny is unequivocally beneath me.
To all the men who argue that accused men must be presumed innocent until proven guilty, what can survivors provide for you that would actually be enough “proof” for you? Most survivors who don’t experience penetrative rape can’t provide any DNA evidence, most don’t have witnesses or witnesses willing to testify. Many who do experience penetrative rape are so traumatized that the physically uncomfortable, invasive process of collecting a rape kit can be unbearable. The truth is, it’s often physically impossible for survivors to provide anything beyond their testimony.
So, when it’s a survivor’s voice against a powerful man’s and you consistently find yourself believing the powerful man, find it in yourself to question why that is. Question the rigidity of your standards for believing someone who is risking it all to tell you they are in pain. I’ll be more than willing to debate when you can tell me what, exactly, survivors can provide you to prove their experience.
Kylie Cheung is a junior majoring in political science. She is also the blogs editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “You Do Uterus,” runs every other Wednesday.